Chinese President Xi Jinping says he will send a representative to Ukraine to discuss a possible “political settlement” in Russia’s war with Ukraine.
Xi recently told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in a phone call that a former Chinese ambassador to Russia would visit Ukraine and “other countries” to hold talks. China did not say whether the representative planned to visit Moscow.
The phone call between Xi and Zelenskyy had been expected after China said it wanted to serve as a negotiator in the war.
Why does this matter?
China is the only big government that has friendly relations with Russia. China also has economic leverage because it is the biggest buyer of Russian oil and gas. The United States and its allies have mostly stopped buying oil and gas from Russia.
China sees Russia as a diplomatic partner in opposing American influence in international relations. Chinese officials have avoided criticism of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. China has also used its position as one of five permanent U.N. Security Council members to limit diplomatic attacks on Russia.
Zelenskyy has said he welcomes a Chinese offer to mediate a possible settlement in the war.
Why is China doing this?
Xi’s government has sought to become more involved in world diplomacy. The move is seen as part of a campaign by China to return the country to what the ruling Communist Party sees as its rightful position as an international political and economic leader.
Such attempts differ from the past, when China mostly avoided involvement in other countries’ conflicts and international relations. Instead, it centered on its own economic development.
One recent example came in March, when Saudi Arabia and Iran announced an agreement after negotiations led by China. Saudi Arabia and Iran said they would reopen embassies in each other’s capitals following a seven-year break.
And last week, Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang told Israeli and Palestinian officials that his country is ready to help negotiate peace talks.
Negotiating an agreement between Ukraine and Russia would also increase China’s presence in Eastern Europe, where China has tried to build ties with other governments. Those efforts have led to criticism by some European officials that China is trying to gain leverage over the European Union.
Kimberly Marten is a political science professor at Columbia University’s Barnard College in New York City. She told The Associated Press she does not know if China will succeed in peace efforts for the war in Ukraine.
“I have a hard time believing that China can act as peacemaker,” Marten said. She added that Beijing has been “too close to Russia.”
What are China’s current relations with Russia?
Xi and Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a joint statement ahead of the February 2022 invasion that said their governments had a “no limits friendship.”
China has tried to appear neutral but has supported Russia in defending the invasion of Ukraine. Xi received a warm welcome from Putin during a visit to Moscow in March. The Chinese defense minister visited Russia this month.
China has increased purchases of Russian oil and gas for its energy-hungry economy.
Marten of Barnard College said she sees the direct China-Ukraine contact as a way in which “China is taking at least a step away from Russia.”
What are China’s relations with Ukraine?
In 2021, Ukraine announced plans for Chinese companies to build infrastructure linked to trade.
An official Ukrainian statement issued after Xi’s call with Zelenskyy noted that before Russia’s invasion, China was Ukraine’s number one trading partner. The statement said the talk between the two leaders “will give a powerful impetus to the return, preservation and development” of the relationship.
China’s foreign minister promised earlier this month that Beijing would not provide arms to either side. This promise helps Ukraine, which has received tanks, rockets and other military equipment from U.S. and European governments.
China’s ambassador to France recently set off intense criticism in Europe by suggesting that former Soviet republics -- a group that includes Ukraine -- might not be sovereign nations. The statement supported comments by Putin about Ukrainian sovereignty.
But China then communicated to former Soviet states that it respected their sovereignty and said the ambassador's comments were a personal opinion, not official policy.
I’m Bryan Lynn.
The Associated Press reported this story. Bryan Lynn adapted the report for VOA Learning English.
Words in This Story
leverage – n. the power to influence people in order to get what you want
mediate –v. to work with opposing sides in an effort to end a dispute or reach an agreement
infrastructure – n. the basic equipment and structures (such as roads and bridges) needed for a country or area to operate
impetus – n. something that makes an activity of process happen or continue with more speed and energy
preserve – v. to keep something the same or prevent it from being damaged or destroyed
sovereign – adj. completely independent
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